This is also the final Parquet Post.
Four years after Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said “there could be some fireworks,” we’re here for the grand finale. The trade with Phoenix for Isaiah Thomas was a surprising ooh, and the deal that sent him to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving was a muted ahh. In between — in 2016 and 2017 — they respectively signed Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, the second-best players in their free-agent classes, and drafted Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, each third overall. We saw two Eastern Conference finals runs that ran from the gamut of thrilling and disappointing.
It was all leading up to this — the moment Brad Stevens unveils his most talented roster ever.
When you’re talking about demolition and cap space and rebuilding and future assets and building and trade packages for so long, one day you look up and the damn house is built.
This is the year. This is the year they need to win the title. This is the year they will win a title.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see any one of the C’s projected starting five make the All-Star team. It would come as a shock if they all made it, but tell me any combination of Irving, Horford, Hayward, Tatum and Brown were to make the watered-down East roster, and I’d buy it. All of them are playmakers who can shoot from distance, four of them are plus defenders who can switch onto any anybody, three of them are among the best passers at their positions, two of them are returning five-time All-Stars and one of them delivered a championship already.
Heck, the first four guys off the bench — Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes — started for a team that took LeBron James the distance in the conference finals. The 10th guy, Semi Ojeleye, drew Giannis Antetokounmpo as a playoff defensive assignment, and the 11th man, Daniel Theis, would’ve been in the mix had he not torn his left lateral meniscus.
There isn’t a team in the league deeper than the Celtics. They’re so deep that the first week of the preseason has been spent trying to concoct nicknames for both the starting five and the bench. When those are your biggest concerns in training camp, you know you’re confident.
LeBron is gone now, and nobody in the East should scare the Celtics, especially not the 76ers. Sure, the Warriors are top-heavier, with two MVPs and five legitimate All-Stars filling out their eventual starting five, and their accomplishments would undoubtedly make them the favorites. But they’re also coming off four straight Finals appearances, the last of which admittedly lacked motivation, and their bench is mostly full of questions marks about age and health and ability.
The Celtics will be younger and deeper and hungrier. They also have a coach who has managed a 3-3 record against the Warriors with lesser rosters the past three seasons.
This is not a pipe dream. This is, as a wise man once said, possible, and if you’re thinking that this is just a gravy year — that, if this season ends in thrilling disappointment again, this is merely a stepping stone to a decade of contention — don’t take it for granted. This is the year.
Irving is a free agent at season’s end, and while he has given every indication this week that he will re-sign, things can change awfully quickly for him and/or for this team. We should know that full well by now, especially after a 2017-18 campaign that began with him requesting a trade from the best team in the conference and ended with him requiring season-ending knee surgery.
Rozier will enter restricted free agency, and if he performs anywhere near the level he reached in the playoffs, he will command a hefty raise from one of the many teams with added cap space to spend in 2019. It’s hard to imagine the C’s paying three point guards eight figures annually.
Morris will want a big contract next summer, too, given that he knows he’s been underpaid for the first eight years of his career. (Mook will turn 30 next year, when he will have made $28.3 million in his career — or less than Andrew Wiggins’ average salary for the next five years.)
Theis is another restricted free agent next summer, and the two centers ahead of him on the depth chart — Horford and Baynes — both own player options in 2019. It’s unlikely Horford would ever turn down his max salary for 2019-20, but he will also turn 33 years old in the Finals.
The summer of 2020 brings even more decisions, with Hayward owning a player option, Brown entering restricted free agency and Tatum becoming extension-eligible. The Celtics can’t pay them all, and eventually there may not be enough room for all their ambitions in the lineup.
The future is bright, no doubt, especially with Tatum, Brown and picks from the Grizzlies and Kings coming in the near future, but it’s also uncertain. This is the grand finale. This is the year.
Unfortunately, Parquet Post won’t be here to follow it. I got a job offer covering the NBA that precludes me from writing here, so this will be the final post, and your payments will no longer be processed by Patreon. Subscription fees for this month will be donated to Autism Speaks.
I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting this endeavor. It was a fun ride, from Gordon Hayward’s injury to Game 7. We created great content, raised money for charity, and I hope we do it again someday. In the meantime, if you enjoyed my writing, I’ll be announcing the next stage of my career in the coming days, and you can follow my basketball thoughts there.